Florence Lowe "Pancho" Barnes (July 22, 1901 – March 30, 1975) was a pioneer aviator, the founder of the first movie stunt pilots' union. In 1930, she broke Amelia Earhart's air speed record. Barnes raced in the Women's Air Derby and was a member of the Ninety-Nines. In later years, she was known as the owner of the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a bar and restaurant in the Mojave Desert, Southern California, catering to the test pilots and aviators who worked nearby.
Her fourth husband, Eugene "Mac" McKendry, continued to live in Cantil and survived Barnes for many years.
Son Bill Barnes died piloting a North American P-51 Mustang flying near Fox Field in Lancaster in October 1980. In 1940, she had founded Barnes Aviation of Lancaster which Bill operated in his adult years. It remains in the general aviation business today.
Her life and personality were portrayed in the 1983 epic film The Right Stuff adapted from Tom Wolfe's bestselling book of the same name. Kim Stanley played her. She was also the subject of a heavily fictionalized 1988 TV movie written by John Michael Hayes and directed by Richard Heffron entitled Pancho Barnes, in which she was portrayed by Valerie Bertinelli. The first biography about Pancho was published in 1986, The Lady Who Tamed Pegasus: The Story of Pancho Barnes, written by Grover Ted Tate, who relied heavily upon the copyrighted autobiographical materials of Pancho Barnes. In 1996, a second biography appeared, Pancho: The Biography of Florence Lowe Barnes, written by Barbara Schultz. A third biography appeared in 2000, written by Lauren Kessler, The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes.
PBS sponsored a documentary film, The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club, completed in 2009. In it, Kathy Bates provides the voice of Pancho Barnes. The documentary was made independently of the estate of Pancho Barnes. However, the estate gave the film makers full access to her personal papers and photographs as well as her copyrighted autobiography that are owned by the estate. The film, which chronicles Pancho's life story, was produced and written by Nick T. Spark and directed by Amanda Pope in affiliation with KOCE-TV, a PBS station in Orange County, California. The documentary won an Emmy for best arts and history documentary.
Pancho's Mystery Ship #32 was for a long time located in a hangar at Mojave Airport. It was sold to a private collector a number of years ago, and is currently in the United Kingdom, where it has been restored.
The Happy Bottom Riding Club historical site is the location for the annual USAF Test Pilot School/Edwards Air Force Base Pancho Barnes Day celebration (established in 1980). A barbecue is held and drinks are served, along with dancing and live music to honor the remembrance of this aviation pioneer and friend. Family hour extends until approximately 2100 hrs, after which it is an adults only party, perhaps in remembrance of the raucous old days of Happy Bottom.